New Brunswick

Province to review future potential of Penobsquis mine

New Brunswick’s Department of Energy and Mines says it will commission a resource assessment of the Penobsquis potash mine.

PotashCorp had applied for an environmental impact assessment to allow flooding of closed mine

Since mining operations, formerly run by PotashCorp, halted at the end of last year, the mine has be allowed to fill with water. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

New Brunswick's Department of Energy and Mines says it will commission a resource assessment of the Penobsquis potash mine.

It wants to see how much potash is left at the Penobsquis site, and the potential for mining the resource, should potash prices rise to an economic level again.

In a media release on Wednesday, the department said the mine operator PotashCorp registered for an environmental impact assessment (EIA) earlier this month.

Subject to EIA approval, the mine would then be allowed to flood. PotashCorp says it still spends $50,000 a day pumping brine from the site.

It's a round-the-clock, seven days a week business for 43 drivers who drive to Saint John to dump the heavily salted water into the Bay of Fundy.

The Penobsquis mine ended production last November. Two months later, PotashCorp also closed down the nearby Picadilly mine, costing the region hundreds of jobs.
PotashCorp closed the nearby Picadilly mine operation in January, at the cost of 430 jobs. (CBC)

The province says it is in the process of hiring a third-party consultant to carry out the resource assessment.

"As responsible managers of our province's resources, we have an obligation to review and fully understand what, if any, potential resource remains in the Penobsquis potash deposit," said Energy and Mines Minister Donald Arseneault.

Potash cooperation

PotashCorp told CBC News that it is happy to cooperate with any assessment carried out by the province.

"The mine's not economic now and hasn't been for some time, and it's an expensive proposition to continue pumping it out," said PotashCorp's director of communications Randy Burton.

"So this is obviously part of the process of closing the mine, and that's what this environmental impact assessment is all about, to determine the conditions under which it'll be discontinued and operations wrapped up."

Burton said that allowing the mined portion of the Penobsquis site to flood would not prevent future mining.

"We believe that some of the remaining ore would be accessible from the Picadilly mine if and when it were economic to mine," said Burton.

"It's not economic now and we don't foresee a time when it would be."
Sussex Mayor Marc Thorne says PotashCorp has reassured him that the area to be flooded has been fully exploited of its potash. (CBC)

Sussex Mayor Marc Thorne says the assessment is a case of the province looking after the best interests of New Brunswickers.

"The information that the PotashCorp have given to myself and other community leaders is that they have fully exploited the rifts that they've mined, and there is no loss of resource by allowing it to flood," said Thorne.

"So to get that reassurance from a third party, I think that's just an additional level of due diligence that I think everybody will appreciate."

The province says the resource assessment will take several months to complete and that it will release more details once the third-party contract is finalized.